Conglom takes 19.9% stake of largest private distrib

BEIJING — News Corp. has bought a stragetic stake in the privately held distrib Bona Film Group, giving Rupert Murdoch a key foothold in the booming China market and marking the latest stage in an ambitious expansion plan by Bona.

The move is the latest effort by News Corp. to make headway in the booming, but thorny, Chinese market. In 2009, it restructured its Star TV business to focus on India amid the group’s longterm frustrations about breaking into the market, and Rupert Murdoch has complained how gaining access to China is beset by regulatory difficulties.

News Corporation will acquire a 19.9% equity stake in Bona directly from topper and founder of the distrib, Yu Dong, who has restructured his stake in the company by buying 1.5 million shares from Sequoia Funds, and 1,000,000 shares respectively from SIG China Investments One and Bona Matrix Partners China Funds.

No valuation of News Corp’s stake was given.

The move comes at the end of a flurry of activity in Bona, as it actively seeks greater interest from overseas investors.

The movement of stock ownership will see Yu’s stake in the company reduced to 27% from 42%. The share price was given at average price of $11.40 per share, or $5.70 per American Depositary Share.

In April, Yu upped his stake in the company by spending $16.5 million to buy 1.5 million shares at $11 per share from Sequoia, leaving the VC with 5.42% of the shares outstanding.

Since it listed on the Nasdaq in 2010, its shares have under-performed but it has been working to become more transparent to lure overseas investors.

Bona last week announced its first quarter figures, which saw net revenues rise of $43.7 million, an increase of 126.8%.

The shingle also said it was planning to boost its 3D output with two new pics to shoot later this year, and invest in a new 3D film technology center in Tianjin with Hong Kong helmer Tsui Hark.

Last month it hired the investor relations firm Piacente Group, with offices in New York, California and Beijing, to make it more attractive to investors.

“Since our IPO in 2010, we have developed our business significantly and we believe now is the time to diversify our ownership structure by introducing select strategic investors. This is an exciting period of growth for China’s film industry, and we look forward to exploring the international commercial opportunities for Chinese films with our new partner,” Yu said in a statement.

Jack Gao, Senior veep at News Corporation & CEO, News Corporation China Investments, said Bona was differentiated by from other distribs in China by its vertically integrated business model.

“China’s film market is growing at a rapid pace, positioning the country to be the second largest film market following the United States, and Bona’s market leadership, compelling value proposition and tremendous growth potential make this an attractive opportunity for News Corporation,” Gao said.

The transaction leaves Yu with 8,210,803 ordinary shares, not including an option on 545,615 shares.

As well as distribbing pics around the Greater China region, Bona also has production interests, runs a talent agency, and owns and operates movie theaters in China.

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